The United States President Donald Trump’s first tweet for 2018 concerning foreign relations should have been on North Korea. Instead, he targeted Pakistan. His tweet was not spontaneous. Trump appeared well briefed by his advisors. Otherwise, he would not have known how much aid Pakistan had received in the past 15 years. What is Trumpish in the tweet is the hallmark provocative tone with a thick coat of imprudence, as was also evident in the subsequent North Korea tweet where he ridiculously boasted about his finger being kept on a bigger and more powerful nuclear button than the North Korean leader has.
“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the past 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit… They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Trump bellowed in his tweets, prompting a chorus of protests from Pakistanis across the political divide.
The tweets were followed by action to stop aid. Brandishing foreign aid as a weapon to punish weaker states, Trump’s United Nations envoy Nikki Haley announced the US was withholding $255 million in aid to Pakistan. Palestine was also added to the aid-cut list.
In Islamabad, the government summoned the US ambassador to register its disappointment and convened the National Security Council to discuss the developments. The NSC said in a statement that Trump’s insensitive comments “negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation”.
Pakistan could not be blamed for US failures in Afghanistan, the statement said, adding that accusing allies would not lead to the establishment of peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan was once the United States’ most allied ally in Asia, for the two countries were bound by four defence agreements during the Cold War. Despite its leadership role in the Afro-Asian Solidarity Movement, Pakistan threw its weight behind the US-led defence bloc within the first decade of independence itself. The two nations first signed the Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement in 1954. This was followed by Pakistan joining the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and the Baghdad Pact, and signing a bilateral defence cooperation agreement.
Yet, when Pakistan was in crisis during its wars with India, the US conveniently failed to come to its aid, reasoning out that the defence arrangements were aimed at meeting the threat from the Soviet Union, not India. These agreements gradually became defunct. In 1979, Pakistan joined the Non-Aligned Movement. But the very year, military cooperation between Pakistan and the US increased, with the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan. Ten years later, when the Soviets left Afghanistan, the US degraded Pakistan in favour India that had just begun opening up its economy.
US officials’ rant against Pakistan was nothing new. In recent years and months, Senior US officials and military commanders have publicly questioned Pakistan’s commitment to the US-led war on terror. They include former Defence Secretary Robert Gates, the present Defence Secretary James Mattis, and present Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They complained that Pakistan was not doing enough, but they did not negate Pakistan’s contribution outright, like Trump has done.
How can they? After all, no country that joined the US war on terror had made so much of a sacrifice at so huge a cost to its national security and sovereignty.
Cricket star-turned-political party leader Imran Khan in a series of tweets hit out at Trump, calling him “ignorant and ungrateful”.
“…. Our society became radicalised and polarised as we helped CIA create jihadi groups; then, a decade later, we tried to eliminate them as terrorists on US orders,” said Khan who leads the opposition Tehreek-e-Insaf. He was referring to the US role in nourishing the Afghan Mujahideen and later the Taliban.
When the war on terror was about to be unleashed on Afghanistan in 2001 following the Spetember 11 terror attacks on the United States, Pakistan was warned by US defence bosses that if it did not join the war, it would be bombed back to the Stone Age . Still reluctant to join the war despite the threat, the then military ruler Pervez Musharraf war-gamed to assess Pakistan’s ability to take on the US, in case it refused to join the war. He did not want his country to become another Laos, where the US dropped more than two million tons of ordnance from 1964 to 1973 during the Vietnam War. Besides, at stake were Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and facilities. In addition, a bombed-out Pakistan without its nuclear weapons would only invite India to invade and annex Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Musharraf joined the US war and allowed the US to launch attacks from Pakistan’s air bases. Pakistan’s sovereignty became a mockery, with the US using Pakistan’s very own bases to kill Pakistani civilians during raids on terrorist hideouts.
In return, what Pakistan got was bloody mayhem. The 33 billion dollars Trump was trumpeting about were not development aid to Pakistan, but the money was largely in military aid directed at meeting the cost of waging America’s war.
The price Pakistan had to pay was heavy. A country that had produced widely respected Islamic scholars and philosophers was devastated by the so-called Islamic terrorism of unknown origin. Foreign investors and tourists avoided the country. As a result its economy suffered. Major international sports events have not been held in Pakistan since a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers came under attack in 2009. According to a report prepared by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, 81,000 Pakistanis had died by the end of 2013 due to the war on terror. Pakistan government statistics say more than 48,000 Pakistani civilians and 26,000 militants died in the war on terror. The number of Pakistani soldiers who have died in America’s war on terror was around 6,000. In contrast, the number of US soldiers killed in the war on terror in the Af-Pak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) region was just 2,300.
Yet, US policy makers continue to blame Pakistan, perhaps, in a bid to cover up their dismal failure in Afghanistan – both militarily and diplomatically -- after 16 years of military operations. They accuse Pakistan of hunting with the US and running with the terrorists. The charges cover providing safe haven to the Taliban, especially the Haqqani network, Pakistan’s alleged role in providing safe haven to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abottabad and the closing down of supply routes for Nato troops.
The aid cut to Pakistan is not new. In 2015, the Obama administration held back US$ 300 million. However, if Pakistan officially withdraws from the war on terror, it will do much good for the country and its people. Instead, it should enhance defence relations with China, an all-weather friend, which came to Pakistan’s defence in the wake of Trump’s tweet. The US will then realise it cannot survive in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s support, for the military supplies have to come through Pakistan.